There was a lot of news this week, and I could not write a column about every event. Instead, here are some quick thoughts on a few events that caught my eye. You can think of this as something like a lightning round.
Rumble on the Senate Floor
On Tuesday, Markwayne Mullin, a Republican senator from Oklahoma, challenged Sean O’Brien, the president of the Teamsters, to a fight during a Senate hearing. The two had previously exchanged insults after Mullin complained that unions were trying to undermine his plumbing business. Asked about his more recent conduct, Mullin told CNN: “I’m not somebody that’s going to say we go around and fight all the time; I got paid to fight. But I will say that every now and then, you do, and you should be taught a lesson.”
To defend his behavior, Mullin pointed to past examples of fighting in the halls of Congress. He noted the caning of Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts by Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina, an incident that left Sumner seriously injured.
I have to say, it is both wild and a little ironic that Mullin would cite this particular incident, which not only foreshadowed the Civil War — Sumner was one of the most prominent antislavery lawmakers in the country — but was also indicative of an ideological extremism that, by the middle of the 1850s, had gripped much of the southern wing of the Democratic Party. That extremism produced a rigid and doctrinaire style of politics that condoned violence and, in short order, destabilized the nation’s political system.
Supreme Court Ethics Code
On Monday, the Supreme Court adopted its first-ever ethics code, a direct response to the allegations of scandal and misconduct regarding the behavior of Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. In an unsigned statement from the court, the justices said that this written code reflects long-held informal standards.
“The absence of a code, however, has led in recent years to the misunderstanding that the justices of this court, unlike all other jurists in this country, regard themselves as unrestricted by any ethics rules,” the justices wrote. “To dispel this misunderstanding, we are issuing this code, which largely represents a codification of principles that we have long regarded as governing our conduct.”
The code is a mixed bag. On one hand, the decision of all nine justices to adopt this code is a clear victory for critics who have been pressuring them to do something about their ethics problem. On the other, what use is an ethics code without an enforcement mechanism? The justices can pledge, on their honor, to abide by these rules. But if Justice Thomas decides to take another private jet flight to another luxury resort, there is no one — no force — that can hold him accountable.
In a real sense, then, this new ethics code is little more than a P.R. move. And for those of us who think the Supreme Court is too powerful, the code reinforces the idea that the only legitimate steward of the court’s behavior is the court itself.
It is a good thing that the court felt compelled to respond to the public. It would be better if Congress would exercise its constitutional authority to shape — and discipline — the institution.
Last week, Warner Bros. Discovery announced that it would be scrapping its release of “Coyote vs. Acme,” a new Looney Tunes film that was complete and ready for distribution. The reason? To get a tax break.
This isn’t the first time the company, under the leadership of David Zaslav, has made this move. Just look to last year, when Warner Bros. Discovery scrapped a “Batgirl” movie that was ready for release.
I cannot imagine the Hollywood accounting that concludes that it is better to get a tax write-off for a movie than to make money off it, but I do think it is fair to call this an abuse that devalues the work of the artists, actors, writers and technicians that make movies a reality. That’s why filmmakers have been speaking out in the wake of the latest cancellation, condemning Zaslav and Warner Bros. Discovery for their apparent contempt for the moviemaking process itself.
There’s no way to force Zaslav not to be a penny-pinching executive. But there is a way to disincentivize the move to shelve completed films for the sake of saving a few dollars. Congress could pass a law requiring studios to place films in the public domain if they choose a tax break over a commercial release. After all, a tax break is just another way for the government to spend money, and if the public is going to subsidize the creation of movies, then the public should have a chance to enjoy it.
What I Wrote
My Tuesday column was on the reason you should take Donald Trump’s plans for a second term both literally and seriously:
My Friday column took another look at the Republican Party’s turn against democracy, in the context of the party’s response to votes that challenge its political and ideological interests:
And the latest episode of my podcast with John Ganz is on Oliver Stone’s “Nixon,” a strange movie about a strange man.
Isaac Chotiner interviewed a far-right Israeli settler for The New Yorker. (This is a chilling but, I think, necessary read.)
Wendy Pearlman on collective punishment for New Lines Magazine.
Karl Klare on “non-reformist reform” for the Law and Political Economy Project.
Grace Segers on Mitt Romney for The New Republic.
Amanda Mull on why you can’t find a good biscuit outside of the South for The Atlantic.
Photo of the Week
I try to keep photos of my family to an absolute minimum, but I like this one too much not to share. It’s from last month, when we went pumpkin picking. Everyone had a good time except my youngest, who thought there was “too much wind.” And you know what? That’s fair.
Now Eating: Red Wine Pinto Beans With Smoky Bacon
All right, so obviously, this isn’t a vegetarian recipe. It’s easy enough to make vegetarian — just omit the bacon. But if you are a meat eater, let me make the case for treating these beans as if they were meat. With the right ingredients and the right technique, I think you can produce a pot of beans that rivals a beef stew. Admittedly, you’ll want to use a good beef stock (I happened to have some beef stock in the freezer) and sauté your vegetables with mashed anchovies. It also wouldn’t hurt to add a few dashes of fish sauce. After the long braise, you’ll have a truly incredible bowl of beans that would go very well with crusty bread and a nice zinfandel. The recipe is from the cooking section of The New York Times.
½ pound smoky bacon, diced
1 large onion, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 large sprigs rosemary
1 pound dried pinto beans, soaked overnight
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt, more to taste
2 cups dry red wine
Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving (optional)
Coarsely grated Parmesan, for serving (optional)
Coarsely ground black pepper or red pepper flakes, for serving (optional)
In the bottom of a large pot over medium-high heat, brown bacon until golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in onion, celery, carrots, garlic and rosemary. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, 5 to 7 minutes.
Drain beans and add to pot along with 1 tablespoon salt. Pour in enough water to just cover the beans (about 7 to 8 cups). Bring liquid to a boil; reduce heat and simmer gently until beans are just tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Meanwhile, in a small pot over medium heat, simmer wine until it is reduced to ⅔ cup, 20 to 30 minutes.
Remove rosemary branches from bean pot and discard them. Pour wine into beans and bring to a simmer. Cook for 10 to 20 minutes longer to meld flavors and thicken broth to taste. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan, if desired; add more salt and black or red pepper to taste.